It’s been a wild year on the housing market.
Sure, you may have read the news stories about sales activity, the lack of existing inventory throughout the spring, the flurry of new construction and the promise of multiple interest rate changes. If you’re a person with no intention to move, then it may not seem all that different than usual.
But if you talk to people actively looking for homes, you may hear about a more frenzied experience. In addition to speaking with Realtors regularly and hearing from the occasional reader (thanks Mom!), a few friends and colleagues shared some stories from their own recent house-hunting experiences in both Idaho and Eastern Washington. Some of them sound more like the manufactured drama you see on HGTV than real life.
Bidding wars for seemingly average homes. Houses getting accepted offers the first day on the market, even before most get a chance to look at the pictures online. Delayed construction. Selling homes too fast and living a little too long with the in-laws before the new house is ready. I’ve heard that one a couple times, actually.
It’s all happened right here in the Inland Northwest, and while summer provides more inventory on the market to ease the frenzy, there remains added pressure for buyers to make decisions often before they’re comfortable with a choice.
When it comes to buying a home, most people don’t want to make a decision before they know whether or not it’s the right decision. But can you really feel confident in a home and neighborhood after just one short viewing? For most of us, it’s simply not realistic to fall in love at first sight.
So what do you do if you’re looking for a home in a too busy market? No strategy is perfect, but you can hedge your bets by being a good scout — meaning being as prepared as you can.
Know what you
want in a house
If you’re looking to buy now, you don’t have time to figure out what comprises your ideal home. If you’re unsure of the basics — size, a strict price range, number of rooms, front yard-backyard spread, kitchen features, shape/floors, basement, entertaining space, etc., then you’re going to be at a disadvantage against those who know their stuff.
Really, it’s best to be a little ahead of the game — look at listings and visit neighborhoods a few weeks before you actually jump into the market to buy. Get a sense of the market out there, talk to a real estate agent about the realities of your ideal space and its availability, and make decisions about what you like before you end up wasting time looking at houses that don’t include your “Must Haves.”
Talk to your friends, neighbors and
Where do your friends live? What do they like about it, and what do they hate with a passion? While it’s not every case where a friend will talk you into living right down the street from them, it can be both surprising and insightful to hear what others think about where they live. And chances are they have other (possibly) informed opinions about nearby neighborhoods, places they looked previously or areas in which their friends and families live.
You may find a neighborhood you love, but a friend or family member might know what could be a potential hang up down the line for you — for example the school boundaries take your kids to a not-ideal facility, or the strict HOA doesn’t like “Breaking Bad-”style RVs like the one you own parked on the street. Problems with where you live often arise from what you don’t know, and it just might be that you know someone already in the know, you know?
I’ve mentioned it in this column before, but it’s worth repeating — it’s OK to talk to strangers, especially when it’s about a decision costing you hundreds of thousands of dollars. If you’re interested in a particular neighborhood or even a particular street, go visit it. Hang around or pop back a few times and you will likely find a friendly-looking face working on their yard or walking the dog. Talk to them (try not to scare them). Ask them what they think about a neighborhood.
I’m not very outgoing, but this strategy has worked for me. I once spoke to an elderly woman in a neighborhood I was interested in, and she bluntly told me about the “drug house” two houses down from the property. That sweet old lady saved me quite a headache.
Embrace your inner sleuth
Research, research, research. If you’re targeting a particular area or neighborhood, you don’t need to wait for houses to come on the market to determine whether it’s a good fit. Utilize the online applications, like Realtor.com and Zillow.com to look at sales activity in the area — what’s sold recently, HOA prices, etc., and see if older/closed listings still contain pictures of the property. In many cases, neighborhoods reuse floor plans, so you might be able to familiarize yourself with the ideal home shape in that area before a specific home featuring it even comes on the market.
Take your research on the road too. Drive through the neighborhood at all different hours. What’s the vibe? Are there kids playing, people working on their impeccable-looking lawns (that might be a bad thing for those looking to avoid landscaping work), is there street noise or too much activity for your taste?
Drive through when the sun goes down too, and do it a few different times. The neighborhood could be a haven for loud parties, or maybe a “too quiet” street freaks you out a little bit. See if people are watching you too… for example, if a police officer approaches you about a report of a suspicious vehicle that looks like yours frequenting the neighborhood, then you can probably deduce there’s a solid Neighborhood Watch Program in the area. OK, maybe don’t stalk the place that much.
Even in a slower market, doing a little reconnaissance work before you get serious about buying can be beneficial. The perfect house might be sitting on the market for a month waiting for you, or you and the Jones will duke it out on day one of the listing. Either way, the best decisions are informed decisions, so give yourself an advantage whenever possible.
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Let us know about standout neighborhoods and developments that we may feature in an upcoming Neighborhood of the Week. Contact Tyler Wilson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Real Estate Agents, take advantage of Neighborhood of the Week by sending in your suggestions for featured areas, including sites outside the normal confines of Coeur d’Alene, Post Falls and Hayden.